Archive for the 'Oklahoma' Category

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?


This is a cradleboard from the 1930’s from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.  An infant would have been placed inside, strapped in, and then the mother would have secured the cradleboard to her back. The cradleboard has a wooden frame that is smoothed and polished with two vertical pieces pointed at the top ends. The actual carrier portion is made of a buckskin cover lined on the inside with printed cloth. The outside is covered with seed beads forming geometric-floral designs outlined in reds, blues, yellow, green, and white on a blue bead background. Each cradleboard was unique, with different intricate designs and patterns reflecting the family’s love of their child. Historically, for the Kiowa, women were primarily responsible for raising children, and this type of device allowed a woman to keep track of and care for her child even when busy doing other things.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Object: Hand Game Set

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Hand game set
Carnegie, OK
Ca. 2009
Materials: Painted wood and plastic pegs

This object is a Kiowa hand game set. The set consists of a rectangular painted wooden base (27.5” long by 8.5” high by 5” wide), 37 painted wooden rods that fit into holes along the top of the base (each rod is 12” long and 3/8” in diameter), and 8 pegs made of white plastic that fit into holes along the sides of the base (each peg is 4” long by 3/8” in diameter). Eighteen of the rods are on the left side and are painted dark blue with small white dots all over. Another 18 rods are placed on the right side and are painted in a mottled red and yellow design. There is a single central rod, painted blue with white dots on one end and mottled red and yellow on the other. Half of the pegs are decorated with 3 bands of color while the other half of the pegs are plain. Two decorated and two undecorated pegs are on each side of the base. The base is painted red with a mountain landscape outlined in yellow. Above the mountains, the rest of the base is painted dark blue with small white dots, possibly representing stars.  There is a yellow, red, and blue maple leaf emblem on the top center of the base.

The hand game, common to at least 81 different Native American tribes in North America, is a game of chance. Men, women, and children of all ages play this game. The game can vary in size size, from only a handful of people to around 50 people! Hand games go by many different names amongst the various tribes, including “stick games” or “hands and bones,” but all of them involve guessing in which hand an object, or series of objects, is hidden. This type of game is very old. In fact, Lewis and Clark mentioned this game in their records of meeting with the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho in the early 1800’s.

Generally, a bone, wooden, or plastic bead at least 2 inches long is the object being hidden. In many cases, there are multiple beads (usually two or four). There are always two teams that sit in rows across from each other. A scorekeeper and the musicians usually sit to one side. The game starts by drawing lots to see which team will get to have the bead (or beads) “in hand.” This means that they are the ones in possession of the bead and are responsible for hiding it. The players on the opposite side, who are to guess who is hiding the bead, must watch closely to keep track of where the players are trying to pass the bead from one hand to the other and from one person to another without exposing the bead to view. Each player in the row that has the bead “in hand” act as if they, specifically, are the one to have the bead in order to try to fool their opponents. The teams actively cheer on their own side while trying to distract the opposing team with songs and dances. Every time the opposing side correctly guesses where the bead is, they win a point. The side guessing continues to guess until they miss; then they switch and the other team guesses. The 30 (or more) counting sticks, sometimes referred to as arrows, are used to keep score. The first team to 10 points wins!

Take a look at this video to see a contemporary hand game from Oklahoma:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: German Silver Stickpin

Stickpin by Murray Tonepahote
Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma
North America: Plains, Oklahoma
Date: 20th Century
Materials: German silver (aka Nickel silver)

This small German silver stickpin is only 3.25 inches long by 0.5 inches wide. It is in the shape of a tipi with a gourd rattle head on top and four slender pendants dangling below the base of the tipi. On the back, the pin portion is attached where the top of the tipi meets the bottom of the gourd rattle. This pin was made by master metalsmith Murray Tonepahote, a renowned Kiowa artist.

Figure 2    Navajo man wearing a German Silver Concho belt, photo by Don Blair in the 1950's

Figure 2 Navajo man wearing a German Silver Concho belt, photo by Don Blair in the 1950’s

German silver, also known as Nickel silver or electrum, is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. Native American communities have used German silver in their jewelry and metalworking for centuries, ever since it was introduced into North America in the late 1800’s. Countless examples of German silver objects such as earrings, belts, conchos, tie slides, bracelets, and hair combs among others can be found throughout native communities today. To learn more about the production of German silver objects, take a look at a previous post from 2011.

Murray Tonepahote (1911-1968), a member of the Kiowa tribe, began his artistic training under the teachings of noted Kiowa artists Monroe Tsatoke and Harry Hokeah. An early member of the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative, Tonepahote excelled at designing religiously inspired jewelry such as stickpins and earrings, many of which have become masterpieces of Southern Plains Indian art.

Murray Tonepahote, along with George “Dutch” Silverhorn, Julius Caesar, Bruce Caesar, and Homer Lumpmouth, has become recognized as one of the greatest Native metalsmiths in the country. The work of these extraordinary artists is now widely collected and exhibited across the United States.

Many of Tonepahote’s objects, like this stickpin, relate specifically to the Native American Church, which traditionally incorporates many Peyote rituals. The Native American Church originated in Oklahoma in the 1800’s and spread to many different Native American tribes around the country. The use of peyote, a small cactus, in rituals such as healings and births is believed to allow communion with deities and spirits.


Take a look at this video to learn more about the history of the Native American Church and the importance of Peyote rituals to many Native artists:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Bronze Sculpture

Title: “Something to Believe In”
Artist: Willard Stone (Cherokee name: Ne-ah-yah)
Tribe: Cherokee, NGD (Non-Government Descendent)
Date: Mid 20th Century
Materials: Bronze on Wood base

This beautiful bronze statue, titled “Something to Believe In,” is 8 inches tall and 20 inches long and is mounted on a wooden base. It depicts a young Native American boy lying on his stomach with his head propped up in his hands, contemplating a small turtle. He is wearing fringed buckskin pants, moccasins, and three feathers in his hair. It was created by master sculptor Willard Stone. You can see other versions of this statue at museums such as the Willard Stone Museum in Locust Grove, OK. In fact, Willard Stone made 30 statues that looked just like this one. Why do you think he would have made so many similar sculptures?

Willard Stone stated of this piece: “We have got to get back to the good earth and basic things. Our kids have got to believe in nature and know that all of man’s needs come from God and natural things that surround us. This bronze represents the three basics: 1. the terrapin (turtle): Nature, 2. the Indian boy; our off-spring; and 3. the three feathers; the Great Spirit, or God.” Stone often dealt with themes expressing the wonder of nature in his art. What do you feel when you look at this piece?

Some insight into the meaning of this sculpture can be found in Willard Stone’s life and extraordinary artistic career. Stone was born Feb 29, 1916 near Muskogee, OK. He attended Bacone Indian College in 1936, studying under Acee Blue Eagle and Woody Crumbo, two of the most famous Native American artists of the 20th Century. Stone typically worked in wood and bronze and was inspired by the world around him which included his children as well as the beauty of nature. For many years, he could not support himself and his family solely through his art, but, by 1961 he had become nationally recognized and was able to devote all of his time to the work he so loved. Stone was of mixed heritage, and even though his affiliation with the Cherokee Nation was never recognized (he was a Non-Government Enrolled Descendant Cherokee American), he greatly identified with the beliefs of the Cherokee people. This was a huge inspiration for much of his sculpture.

Willard Stone died March 5, 1985, having created hundreds of sculptures that now reside in museums across the country. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1970.  His artistic drive lives on in his son Jason M. Stone, who has followed in his father’s footsteps to become an incredible sculptor in his own right.


[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Cradle

Beaded Cradle
North America: Plains
ca 1930
Materials: hide, wood, glass beads

This object is a beaded cradle board that was made by Mrs. Ahpeatoni, a Kiowa woman from Mountain View, Oklahoma. In typical Plains cradle fashion, this is a handmade wooden frame decorated with buckskin and glass beads. Along with the Kiowa tribe, many other tribes of the Plains region created cradleboards for their infants. Many of these tribes traditionally lived nomadic lifestyles, cradleboards provided protection for the baby’s head and neck during travel and made the infants easier to carry while the mother worked during the day. The cradle could be worn as a backpack, or hung from a tree or tipi pole. According to elders, the cradles were constructed upright to help the baby see adults at eye level and helped to socialize the baby.

Kiowa cradleboards are often made using a V-shaped frame made of two long pieces of wood. Men made the wooden frames for the cradles, and female family members made the buckskin pouch and beaded the exterior as a gift for the expecting mother. Kiowa cradles are often beaded in both floral and geometric motifs in many bright colors. This particular cradle’s beadwork is sewn with a “lazy stitch” style. The history of the term “lazy stitch” is explained here. Despite the age of this cradle, the vivid colors of the beadwork are still visible and attest to the rich and lavish artistry. Beaded cradles are still made today by contemporary artists and they continue to be a symbol of pride and traditional culture.

Below is a short video showing a Northern Paiute version of a cradleboard and how the infants would be traditionally wrapped into a cradleboard.

[Alana Cox]

Object: Tie slide

Tie Slide
North America: Plains
mid-20th Century
Materials: German silver (aka Nickel silver)

This German silver tie slide was made by the prolific Oklahoma artist and metal worker George “Dutch” Silverhorn. Dutch Silverhorn was a member of the Kiowa tribe and learned metalworking from his father. Many members of the Silverhorn family are acclaimed artists and crafts people, including the ledger artist Silverhorn, Kiowa Five painter Stephen Mopope, and beadworker Katherine Dickerson. Continuing his family’s artistic tradition, Dutch was also a painter and a carver, producing mainly objects related to the Native American Church.

Historic image of Native American wearing German silver conchos

German silver, also sometimes called nickel silver, is an alloy or combination of copper, nickel and zinc. Nickel silver first became popular as a base metal for silver plated cutlery and is still used today in zippers, keys, costume jewellery, musical instruments, and coins. German silver jewelry and metalworking has also been an extremely popular art form in Native American communities for centuries. The earliest examples of Native American metalwork were made by pounding coins and European style cookware flat, then cutting and forming the metal into jewelry. In the late 1800s the first sheets of German silver began to reach the plains tribes. These sheets were quickly put to use for jewelry making. Countless examples of German silver conchos, belt buckles, tie slides, earrings and more can be found in museums and throughout the native community today.

Here is a video (part 4 of 15) that shows some of the tools and techniques used to make this type of German silver jewelry.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Basket



Armadillo Basket
North America
20th Century
Materials: Armadillo shell

This basket is made from the shell of a nine-banded armadillo. The back of the armadillo forms the body of the basket and the looped tail forms the handle. The nine-banded armadillo is the only North American species of armadillo. Prior to 1850, the nine-banded armadillo was not found north of the Rio Grande river. In the past 150 years, however, armadillo populations have increased greatly in southern portions of the United States, and members of the species have been spotted as far north as Illinois. Armadillos generally live in temperate climates due to the lack of body fat and insulation against the cold. They are the only living mammals with shells and they subsist on insects, plants, and fruit.

The armadillo basket was popularized in the early 20th century by basketmaker Charles Apelt. Baskets, such as this one, were first displayed at the World’s Fair in 1902 and were an instant hit. Charles Apelt started the first armadillo farm in the United States and raised the animals for commercial purposes, producing baskets, lampshades, and smoker stands for tourists and collectors until the 1970s. Armadillo shells have also been used in other countries to make utility objects like musical instruments and food containers.

What do you think about this basket? Share your thoughts and enjoy getting to know the Story Behind the Object!

[Lauren Simons]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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